Now, as the Christmas holiday draws to a close, many of us are looking forward to going back to work. We are keen to see what the new year will bring in terms of opportunities and challenges. Some of us will have set ourselves new and optimistic goals.
Others feel more uncertain about the future. For some people, just finding a job can be hard enough. For others who may already have a job, coping with daily life can still be a constant struggle.
I am thinking in particular of people who suffer from mental health problems. Half of us will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of our lives. Mental illness has become one of our most significant health challenges.
Most people know someone with mental health problems, though they may not know who they are. It can be difficult to talk about mental health problems.
All the same, there is a lot we can do. World Mental Health Day encourages us to really see one another –and make a difference. Giving other people compliments not only feels good, it can also be an effective form of preventive medicine.
It is easy to feel that we might be intruding if we get in touch with someone who is going through a difficult time. But it is often precisely then that they need us most.
It can be difficult for all of us to realise that we need professional help. So it is important that we help others to get the treatment they need.
We can also take responsibility for our own mental health, and seek help early.
And we can do more. As adults, we must do what we can to prevent bullying among children and young people. An unhappy childhood can leave deep scars. A happy childhood is a secure foundation for life.
The Government will work to improve mental health care in the years ahead. Our mental health services are currently not good enough. We must make it easier to get help. We must identify the challenges facing children and young people early on in order to prevent small problems from becoming big ones.
The good news is that it is possible to make a full recovery, and many who do so then want to return to work. This is not always easy. Some people find that doors are closed to them after a period out of work. They now have a gap in their CVs. This make things doubly difficult.
I encourage employers to take on more people with gaps in their CVs. There are a lot of competent people out there who are keen to work and are looking for a new chance. Employers that have done so say that their working environment has improved as a result.
Some 25 % of Stormberg employees, for instance, have previously experienced difficulties finding work. This is an example that others should follow.
We need to make sure that we have a working life where there is room for everyone.
This autumn I visited the Lillehammer car repair centre, a company that offers its employees opportunities for improving their reading, writing and ICT skills. One of the employees, Mats Lien, told me that 16 years ago when he studied for his trade certificate, they didn’t use computers at all. Today, they couldn’t do their jobs without one. This is why it is so important to improve the skills of adults and ensure that they are not left behind by technological developments.
Demands for knowledge are increasing. The fact that Norwegian pupils are not learning enough at school, particularly in maths and science subjects, is therefore a problem.
The maths skills of nearly one in four 15-year-olds are critically low. This is serious both for the pupils themselves and for society as a whole. Many pupils fail to complete upper secondary school and risk ending up without a job.
This is also serious for Norwegian society. Producing goods and services in Norway is expensive. When it comes to production costs, we will never be the cheapest country. This means that we have to be smart.
That is why the Government considers it so important to build a knowledge society in Norway. For Norway, knowledge is the ‘oil of the future’.
I have met pupils who only got through school because of one truly committed teacher.
I have met pupils who, inspired by an outstanding teacher, suddenly discovered the joy of maths or of learning a foreign language.
Last April I visited the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim and met students studying on the master’s programme to become science teachers in Norwegian secondary and upper secondary schools. It is almost as difficult to get a place on that teacher training programme as it is to study engineering. The students told me that their own experience of having an inspirational teacher was the reason they had chosen to become teachers themselves.
We will build on all that is good in our schools.
The Government will give top priority to making good teachers even better. More pupils should be given the chance to experience exceptional teaching.
Those of you who are teachers should know that you are doing one of the most important jobs there is in Norway. The future of many young people is in your hands.
Those of us who are parents also have a great responsibility. Above all, we must talk to our children about how important school is.
We must expect our children to make an effort. They may well prefer to be out playing rather than sitting still doing sums. So, a few words of praise from a mother or father once their homework is finally done can make all the difference.
We hold our 6-year-olds’ hands as we take them to school on their first day. But the time will come when they let go of our hand and make their own way. Then they will need all the knowledge that school is able to give them.
As Nelson Mandela said, education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world. And he was absolutely right. Education has also helped to change Norway.
In the early 1800s, our predecessors fought for Norway to have its own university. This was vital for Norway to be able to shape its own future. The Danes were sceptical, but had to give in, and the University of Oslo opened in 1813. This was an important step on the road to Norwegian independence.
On 17 May this year, it will be 200 years since we gained our own Constitution. The year 2014 will be one of celebration.
We rarely feel as proud as we do when we celebrate the Norwegian Constitution on 17 May each year, when we celebrate the values that are important to us: democracy, community and freedom. The way we celebrate – with a focus on optimism, children and the future – also says a lot about our society.
I hope that many of you will take part in this year’s celebrations. I am looking forward to celebrating our Constitution together with you.
The Royal Family has played a significant part in Norway’s independence. It therefore has a particularly important role to play in this bicentenary year. This evening I would like to send a greeting to our much loved Royal Family and thank them for the important work they do for our country.
Ours is a country with a strong national identity. But this is a positive force that does not lessen our sense of international solidarity or affect our relations with the rest of the world.
Our world is becoming increasingly intertwined.
The Norwegian company Statoil was one of the operators of the gas facility in the Algerian desert that was attacked by terrorists in January. Many people were killed in the brutal attack, including five Norwegians.
When the Philippines was hit by a devastating typhoon, help was needed fast. A training ship for Filipino seamen chartered by the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association made an important contribution to the relief effort. Filipinos in Norway also collected money to help those affected by the disaster.
A Norwegian cargo vessel and the Norwegian frigate KNM Helge Ingstad are assisting in the mission to remove and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.
Another of our frigates, KNM Fridtjof Nansen, led NATO’s counter-piracy operation to protect international maritime traffic and trade in the Gulf of Aden this year.
The scale of our international engagement has meant that many Norwegians find themselves in other parts of the world.
Norwegian soldiers in Afghanistan, the crews of our frigates, and Norwegians engaged in aid efforts and in areas of conflict are putting themselves at risk on behalf of us all. They are doing so in order to create a better world. To protect the values that we hold so dear, values that we will be celebrating this year when we mark the bicentenary of the Norwegian Constitution. We are deeply grateful for your efforts and we are thinking of you, particularly now at Christmas and New Year.
I wish you all, both those at home and those abroad, a very Happy New Year.
This is a new translation, which replaces the previous English version.